Renee pressed a steaming mug of hot chocolate into Ash’s hands before sitting down. “It’s not your fault, Ash.”
Ash looked down into her cup. “Yes, it is. It’s my fault my family is dead, and it’s my fault Will is still gone. If I had been more careful walking in the river, Will would be here now.”
Renee reached across the table and grabbed Ash’s hand. “It’s not your fault. Even the most graceful fall in that river. The current was too strong for you, and that’s something you couldn’t control.”
Ash was about to say something when they heard a scream.
“Taiga!” Renee jumped up so fast, her chair clattered to the ground as she ran outside to her daughter. Ash quickly followed. Instead of seeing the tiny Taiga in distress, Renee found her in the arms of her older brother, Will. Ash stayed in the shadows in the doorway.
Will gently set Taiga down and hugged Tundra, then turned to face his mom. “I came home.”
Renee nodded. “You did.” She ran to her son and wrapped her arms around him. “I thought I was never going to see you again, Will.”
“You probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Ash.”
Renee pulled back and looked her son in the eyes. “Then I have a lot to thank Ash for.”
Will lowered his eyes. “If she makes it here.”
“What do you mean ‘if?’” Ash asked as she walked out of the shadows.
Will’s eyes grew wider when he saw her. “Ash? Is it really you?”
She smiled. “Who else would I be?”
Will ran toward her and crushed her to his chest. “Ash, I thought you were gone. I scoured that river and the woods searching for you.”
Ash buried her face in his chest. “You never checked here.”
Will laughed. “And I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t found our old tree house.”
“Old tree house?”
Will nodded. “Our dads built it when we were really little, and we were always up there together.”
“I don’t remember a tree house.”
“Will, maybe if you show her the tree house, she might remember something,” Renee said.
Will let go of Ash. “You feel up to it?”
She nodded and Will led her towards the tree house.